Para World Championships feature tight racing
The pressure was on at the Para Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships at the Utah Olympic Park over the weekend.
In addition to being the first-ever World Championships in the two disciplines, the athletes were fighting to make their case for inclusion in the 2022 Paralympic Games.
International Paralympic Committee members were in attendance to observe the race and will decide later this year if the sports will gain inclusion to the Games.
After two days of close races, John Rosen, the chairman of the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation’s Para-sport Committee, said he was thrilled with the event.
"I think it went fabulously," he said. "It almost couldn’t have been any better. It was wonderful."
Eric Eierdam of Team USA won the skeleton world championship, besting second-place finisher Matthew Richardson of Great Britain by 3.48 seconds. Eierdam compiled a four-run time of 3 minutes, 31.32 seconds. Brendan Dover of Australia finished in third place.
In the bobsled competition, Lonnie Bissonnette of Canada earned the gold medal, compiling a four-run time of 3:18.09, barely edging Alvils Brants of Latvia, who finished second in 3:18.98. Arturs Klots, also of Latvia, finished third.
"[Friday], at the end of the day, we had three athletes from three different nations within six hundredths of a second of each other," Rosen said. "There was some changing in the order in the final two heats, as often happens, but the racing was just amazing."
American athletes Steven Jacobo (3:20.04), Jason Sturm (3:20.10) and Aaron Lanningham (3:20.22) had mere hundredths of a second separating them as they finished fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively.
"I put together four really good runs," Sturm said. "The racing was really, really tight. Everybody was close."
Overall, Rosen and the athletes agreed that they made a strong case for the 2022 Paralympics.
"This race is a key milestone in our application process for Paralympic inclusion," Rosen said. "We knew we needed to showcase a world-class event for the IPC and I think we did that."
The journey didn’t end at the UOP on Saturday night, though. Sturm said there’s more growth that still needs to happen for both sports. But, he added, gaining Paralympic status should help expedite that growth.
"I think the IPC is going to look at it and, if we move forward, their approval is going to lead to more athletes coming in," he said. "All we need them to do is pull the trigger. If they pull the trigger, you’re going to see Germans involved, you’re going to see Russians involved."
Rosen added that the sports will continue to evolve in the coming years, especially in the bobsled discipline.
"We still have a lot of work to do just to continue to grow the sport, grow participation," he said. "There’s some maturing we need in some of our techniques, particularly the launch techniques we use for the para monobobs. But all of that is scheduled and we’ll just keep working at it."
Sturm said he’s excited to see what the 2016-17 season has in store for him and the other athletes. But first, he added, he’ll take some time off to pursue his other favorite athletic endeavor.
"Next season starts up in the fall," he said. "Between now and then, I’ll just be training. I’ll also participate in my other sport, which is the Highland Games. Literally, the weekend I get back [to Virginia] I start training, so there’s no rest for the wicked, I guess."
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Park City lost 7-0, but coach Tom Merchant says his team played better than the score indicates.